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Supreme Court Strikes Down Federal Bump Stock Ban!

Supreme Court Strikes Down Federal Bump Stock Ban

On June 14, 2024, the United States Supreme Court struck down ATF’s ban on bump stocks. As with many of ATF’s rules, the Supreme Court found that the ATF was misapplying and unlawfully expanding the powers that the law grants them to regulate certain firearms. For those who are not aware, a shooter can bump fire a semi-automatic weapon to fire it far faster, typically using the recoil of the firearm in a way which allows the trigger to be pulled very quickly while the shooter maintains constant pressure with their finger. Certain accessories exist which make this technique of firing a semi-automatic weapon easier to do. It is these accessories which the ATF made illegal to own by categorizing them as machineguns or machinegun parts. The Supreme Court found that these accessories absolutely do not convert your weapon into a machine gun, and the ATF therefore cannot prohibit them under their authority to regulate machineguns. The Supreme Court’s full opinion can be found here.

Bump-Fire Stocks are Still Illegal to Possess in Florida

Before diving into the Supreme Court’s decision and how it affects Federal law, it is important to note that bump stocks are still illegal under Florida law. The Supreme Court’s decision has struck down the ATF’s rule regarding bump stocks. However, the decision does nothing to effect actual laws written about bump stocks, including Florida Statute § 790.222, which is titled simply, “Bump-fire Stocks Prohibited.” This law defines bump-fire stocks as, “a conversion kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device used to alter the rate of fire of a firearm to mimic automatic weapon fire or which is used to increase the rate of fire to a faster rate than is possible for a person to fire such semiautomatic firearm unassisted by a kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device.”  To learn more about Florida’s bump stock law, click here, or click here to learn about everything covered by Florida’s bump stock ban (much more than bump stocks).

Case Background

The case that this issue arose from was Garland v. Cargill. Michael Cargill was one of thousands of Americans who surrendered bump stocks to the ATF when the ATF first criminalized them. He filed a law suit challenging the ATF’s new and arbitrary rule. The Supreme Court of the United States heard argument earlier this year, and on June 14, 2024, made their final ruling. The decision was made 6-3, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing the opinion for the majority. Justice Thomas is the same Justice who wrote the majority opinion in the 2022 landmark gun rights case, NYSRPA v. Bruen.

Bump Stocks are Not Machineguns

The ATF put forward several arguments to try to persuade the Supreme Court that they were correct in categorizing bump stock accessories as machineguns. The most important thing to know is the Supreme Court’s actual ruling, which is that “ATF exceeded its statutory authority by issuing a Rule that classifies bump stocks as machineguns.” The Court gave several reasons for its decision.

First and most simply, the Court found that a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock cannot fire more than one shot “by a single function of the trigger.” Although bump firing allow the shooter to fire more quickly, the trigger is pulled one time for every one bullet fired. The ATF argued that the shooter is maintaining constant pressure, rather than physically moving their finger to pull the trigger for each shot. The Court found that moving one’s finger in this way is not what the statute described. Rather, to qualify the bump stocks as machineguns, the ATF would have to show multiple shots per function of the trigger itself.

The Court went on to state that while a rifle with a bump stock could not fire more than one shot per function of the trigger, “even if it could, it would not do so automatically.” To fire a rifle with a bump stock, additional forward pressure is required by the shooter with their non-trigger hand. The statutory definition of machinegun is very clear in saying that a machinegun fires multiple rounds per trigger pull “automatically.” While this definition of course includes holding the trigger down as part of this “single function of the trigger,” it absolutely does not include the requirement to use additional force with your other hand. To quote the Court, “the statutory definition of a ‘machinegun’ does not include a firearm that shoots more than one round ‘automatically’ by a single pull of the trigger AND THEN SOME.” The ATF’s argument could not succeed because it fundamentally misunderstood or miscategorized how machineguns work and how bump stocks work.

The ATF made a final desperate argument to try to have their unlawful rule upheld by making an argument typically referred to as “the presumption against ineffectiveness.” This presumption essentially means that judges should not interpret a statute in a way that renders it useless or makes it very easy to elude. The majority found that their interpretation of the machinegun statute absolutely does not render the statute meaningless or ineffective. The ATF is still allowed to regulate machineguns. “A law is not useless merely because it draws a line more narrowly than one of its conceivable statutory purposes might suggest . . . § 5845(b) still regulates all traditional machineguns.” Simply put, the majority stated that the regulation of actual machineguns is still valid and enforceable, and the fact that bump stocks allow non-machineguns to be fired more quickly absolutely does not prevent the enforcement of regulations about real machineguns.

Another Second Amendment Victory

Garland v. Cargill marks another in a series of recent wins for Second Amendment advocates. Unlawful ATF rules have been suspended or struck down far more regularly in recent years. With any luck and with the continued vigilance of gun rights advocates all around the country, we can certainly expect many more.


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